‘M&B Sales’ goes blue after 50 years in the industry
As the largest independent timber and doors outlet in Western Australia and a business that has successfully serviced the residential and commercial housing sector for over five decades, M&B’s journey to the Mitre 10 brand has been a long and well-considered one.
Business: M&B Mitre 10 Trade Centre
Owner: Paul Baldock
Location: Bayswater, Geraldton, Busselton, Mandurah, Bunbury, Albany, WA
Buying Group: Independent Hardware Group (IHG)
For the Baldock and Murray family, owners of the six-outlet trade group since 1969, the decision to ‘brand up’ meant striking the right balance between maintaining the core strengths that has given M&B its edge in the trade market, while leveraging the benefits of a national trade model to improve its services to customers.
The solution came via Mitre 10’s extensive Sapphire transformation program, with the family investing alongside IHG in 2020 to transform four out of its six stores to Mitre 10 Trade Centres.
With two stores in Albany and Geraldton nearing completion, owner and Managing Director, Paul Baldock, said the decision to join Mitre 10 was the right one.
“We have done a lot of due-diligence on the bannering and Sapphire transformations for about six years, as we have been waiting for the Mitre 10 Trade Centre brand to get to a point where it really suited our trade business model. I believe the Mitre 10 Trade brand has changed a lot over the years. Mitre 10 is now very focused in trade and has come up with a really good business model in their Sapphire Trade Centre.”
“We are now aligning ourselves with IHG and working with them moving forward because they are progressive and also a very large player. IHG has put a lot of work and thought into their trade business model and they have got a lot of really good people now focussing on this,” he said.
Paul firmly believes there comes a time when ‘unbannered’ business owners need to make a decision on whether they want to continue going it alone or align themselves with a strong national partner who can help their businesses grow into the future.
“I did think I could continue to go it alone because I believe we are really good at what we do, but this is a false sense of security because we are nowhere near as good as what we could be. We cannot stand alone against Bunnings which has become very aggressive in trade in WA at the moment,” he said.
“Aligning ourselves with IHG, which is bigger than Bunnings in trade and has a hell of a lot of stores, gives us a bit of security in being part of a group like this. In 15 years time you just have no idea where you are going to be when you have to compete against such a formidable competitor like that. They have become more of a convenience to builders because they are everywhere and they are throwing a lot of money at their IT. We wanted to align with IHG so we could continue to compete against Bunnings for years to come,” Paul said.
As Bunnings continues to grow and develop its technology program, Paul has realised that the implementation of systems, such as Mitre 10’s Truck Tracker, Trade Online and Click ‘n Collect are so important to the business.
“It would take an enormous amount of money for us to invest in this type of technology, but Mitre 10 have been investing in this for years. For us to do this ourselves and replicate what Mitre 10 have already invested in is a fraction of the price as a member and a critical part of where business is going,” he said.
“The other aspect that IHG brings to M&B is business acumen. They do this by looking at KPIs through their exclusive Store Dashboard and benchmarking on what a really good, professional outfit looks like – range, inventory, pricing, all of this data can be analysed through the Dashboard. This also gives us more of an idea of what areas we are good at and where we need to improve as a business, based on industry standards.”
“The benchmarking and analytics become a lot clearer working with these guys. We need to do this, particularly as WA’s market has been really tough for about five years. In these tough markets you always work a hell of a lot harder,” Paul said.
Some of Paul’s highest values in the business include ‘never give up’ and ‘always looking to the future’ because customers are evolving rapidly. Store owners have to always plan ahead to make sure they keep up with what customers want, he said.
“Our customer profiles are changing very quickly and they rely on a business like ours now more than ever before for product advice and knowledge. This is where trade focussed suppliers like us, who have the skill set and the knowledge, are becoming far more important because we are holding our builders’ hands more now than ever before,” he said.
The transformation to M&B’s Trade Centres has included full relays, the installation of larger trade hardware areas and layouts, implementation of new ranges, as well as Mitre 10’s famous blue signage.
The Geraldton and Albany sites were the first of the M&B outlets to undergo the Sapphire transformation, with both stores expected to be completed in August.
Paul said that while COVID-19 did hold up the initial project slightly when IHG teams from the east coast were unable to travel to WA, the local WA operations team handled the challenge like true professionals.
“Local teams have had to really step up to do this for us and do a lot more of the planning and execution than what they would normally do. The WA Mitre 10 state team have put in a really good effort. The stores that are being transformed are also going through a busy trading period, so keeping the business running while you are genuinely quite busy and also going through a full relay takes a lot of organisation.”
“We decided to transform the Geraldton store first because it is a younger team and they were likely to handle the changes a bit better. M&B has got a lot of long-term employees at other stores who are so passionate about our brand, but they can be very protective of any changes and questioning if this was really for us. This is great in a lot of ways and I was quite proud that people were so protective of M&B,” he said.
Initially there were quite a few questions raised at the Geraldton store on the changes to be made, but as the weeks went on the staff became so engrossed in the transformation, they began to enjoy the changes.
“When we installed the new Mitre 10 trade counter in Geraldton, which is bright orange, as well as some of the new signage in the trade hardware areas, staff said it was like turning on a light to moths, with all these tradies coming in and embracing the changes,” Paul said.
“It was a real positive that someone was doing something new and investing in the business, the region and our trade customers, particularly when the WA market has been so tough over the last few years. Albany has had a bit smoother transformation. There are two branches down towards the southern region of Margaret River, in Busselton and Bunbury, which will be the next two stores to transform, hopefully at the end of August. We want to do these quickly because we do not want to be too disjointed in our branding,” he said.
The introduction of new product ranges has also been a big part of the transformation at Albany and Geraldton, with new lines implemented based on extensive research from IHG as part of its shopper-led range program.
“We implemented the new ranges after IHG provided us a suggested top 1000 hardware items, and we scrutinised this range really carefully to make sure this suited the different regions. The new products we have implemented in Geraldton have been on the mark, which was a pleasant surprise for the team as well who thought they knew what the tradies wanted. IHG run a lot of businesses nationally – both DIY and trade only outlets – and so they have really good insights into what products turn over and why, so we have gone with their lead and so far sales have been really good,” he said.
Boasting an impressive 50-year history, M&B was established by Bob Murray and Paul’s father, Bill Baldock in 1969, starting off in the market as WA’s sole distributor of Corinthian Doors. Today the business is still owned by the Baldock and Murray families, servicing both the residential and commercial housing sector.
“Bill and Bob are now both 93, still in good health and they both come into the business occasionally. They have been business partners for over 50 years, sat on the board until they were 80 years old and both still have holiday homes next door to each other in Mandurah, south of Perth. Bob always ran the sales side of the business, while Bill ran the financial side of the business but they have complemented each other enormously,” Paul said.
The six M&B Trade Centres are primarily located in regional areas of WA, and are well known in the industry for its expansive timber and door offer, quality showrooms and the group’s relationship with both residential and commercial builders.
The group specialises in Australian hardwoods and provide a full design, manufacture and installation solution for many of its products including doors, claddings, linings and deckings. They also have a large timber joinery shop and timber machining department to manufacture custom joinery.
“M&B gets a significant market share in all six areas, simply because we have such energised teams with great branch managers that know their customers, their products and they enjoy turning up to work and getting on with it. It makes a huge difference when you have branch managers who thrive on driving the business and concentrate on connecting with our customers every day,” Paul said.
“This is also why it is so important to implement new technology throughout the business because a lot of the technology we will introduce from IHG allows us to connect with customers more, particularly over their smart phones. They can place orders, we can send invoices and they can see where their delivery is. It takes our service to another level where we can connect with customers more frequently and make conducting business a little bit easier for everyone.”
“We are also now dealing with younger people who live on their smart phones. It is how they want to do business and it is a big part of what IHG brings to the table. Technology is also changing so rapidly which is why IHG is investing so much money to keep up with this technology,” he said.
The need for trade businesses to not only deliver on customer service levels, but also provide a lot of knowledge and know how has become more important than ever before, according to Paul.
“When I hire, I look purely for attitude. Give me someone with the right attitude that wants to be part of a team is far more valuable than a staff member that has been in the industry for 30 years and has all the knowledge but has not got a great attitude, is keen for a job and keen to learn. It is critical in a business like this to continually move forward,” Paul said.